Prospects for New Filmmakers
Recently, Sundance announced their 2021 Festival Lineup. It appeared to be encouraging news. The "lineup features 38 new directors." That is great news. In an industry where it is incredibly difficult to break in without connections or independent wealth, the fact that Sundance recognized a high number of new directors is truly encouraging.
Upon further inspection, there is even more encouraging detail. Fifty percent of the slate's projects had at least one female director. Half of the projects were by creators of color. There were 6 non-binary directors included. This is all wonderful and should make us and Sundance feel good about the future of film. However I still have a lot of concern. Not about 2021, but about 2022.
There are two looming potential issues going into the coming years. The first is how many films are actually going to be made? Especially independent films. Big studios can spend the extra money required to adhere to strict Covid-19 safety measures. Indie filmmakers will certainly struggle, if not be unable to do the same. Despite losing money on recent releases having to go straight to streaming, studios have money on hand and can also get more credit to invest in future projects because of their track record and status. Many indie filmmakers were making movies on a shoestring, relying on the generosity of friends & family, kickstarter/Indiegogo, grants, or maybe an infusion from a well-to-do professional looking to invest in art. Many, if not all of those resources will, at minimum, be diminished if not dried up because of the recession associated with the pandemic. It will be doubly hard for new filmmakers who are just trying to build their funding network and reputation.
The second concern is how much investment will be made in new filmmakers in the coming years. Early in the pandemic I attended an online discussion with industry professionals about funding projects in the time of Covid. It was discouraging, to say the least. If I could boil the discussion down to one sentence it would be "we are not very interested in taking risks on new filmmakers right now and are focused on known entities." This is understandable to a degree. All people and businesses are liable to become more risk-averse during hard and uncertain times. However, I wish they had answered the question I repeatedly entered into the chat: "How do we prevent this practice from causing us to lose a generation of new filmmakers?" If studios aren't hiring new directors for their projects and they aren't investing in independent ones made by new filmmakers, there is not a lot of hope for their future.
Even if a filmmaker figures out a way, despite all the road blocks, to still make a film in the next year or two. Will they be able to get distribution? What will that even look like with the entire movie theater industry in jeopardy? If filmmakers begin to realize that their efforts won't be fruitful, there is certainly a chance they just give up and move on to something else, effective quashing their potential forever. The only people left will be there simply because they were either independently wealthy or had the right connections. Not because they were the best, or most creative filmmakers.
It is impossible to predict what will happen in the future of filmmaking or how new and independent filmmakers will be affected in the next few years. One thing is certain though: It will be more challenging than ever. It is the responsibility of organizations like Sundance and the studios themselves, the entire industry, to be acutely aware of the increased barriers for new filmmakers attempting to break in and to do their best to help. Otherwise we risk losing a lot of talented folks from film permanently.
That workshop I attended did have one optimist on the panel who made a good point. In the era of excellent iPhone cameras, the ability to share one's work widely on the internet, and access to information on how to film, stage, direct, edit, etc. easy to find for anyone interested, there is so much potential for even more scrappy filmmakers to make creative content and get their work out there by unconventional means. This does give me a lot of hope for the future. If a landslide has blocked the main path, there is an opportunity to create a new one or many new ones to take its place. And perhaps in the long run, this will improve the industry for everyone.